Spending money and energy on marketing is the last thing business owners want to do because they worry it may be wasteful. The result is that often marketing gets postponed until there is no other choice but to consider it. At this point, the famine has set in with neglected brands and thin sales pipelines the most apparent symptoms. Let's look at each:
Easy to spot this a mile away because it is, quite literally, so visible. No clear message that runs through the marketing materials, inconsistent use of logos and colours, no obvious point of difference, weak value propositions and generally uninspiring marketing communications. There is hardly a brand to talk of, just a company name and a shape on a letterhead (the so-called "logo").
A thin sales pipeline
With this, the signs are a little less obvious. It typically strikes you as you talk with the owner who will admit that he/she is exhausted as (almost) all the new customer acquisition happens through their personal; networking efforts. Without them, there literally is no sales. A thin sales pipeline is evident when enquiries are few outside the owners' personal network.
How to avoid wasteful marketing
The first step to not waste money on marketing is to start doing it. By perpetually postponing an investment in marketing, the company suffers more and eventually needs to play catch-up when it can least afford it: when sales desperation has crept in. It is during such times when a scramble for marketing success often leads to wasteful expenditure. By simply starting, and doing it early, the process of learning and refining can begin, and the art of marketing learned. The trick is to start somewhere, and gradually build your marketing competence.
A thin sales pipeline is evident when enquiries are few outside the owners' personal network.
Secondly, you'll save a lot of money by taking ownership of your marketing and not be tempted to outsource it entirely. Merely asking someone else to do it and bring you the results, is a recipe for wastage. It is your business, and you need to be involved in how it gets marketed. It is where the role of a strategic marketing plan fits in: to get alignment across the business on "how we are going to promote this thing".
A third tip: use professionals. It is tempting to "go cheap" once you have decided you need a logo, or a new website, or a sprinkling of digital marketing, but this is not going to deliver results. Instead, choose someone, or a small agency, that comes with a solid track record and the higher fee as you will get not only better work, but also a transfer of knowledge that will help you improve your approach. An impactful brand costs money to build and quickly blows got air when the cheapest suppliers get involved.
Be careful not to overcomplicate things
It is not uncommon to find that a fear of marketing wastefulness runs so deep in a business that it falls into a trap of analysis paralysis. Everyone is overthinking what needs to happen in an attempt not to make a mistake. I call this "over-strategising" and I see it a lot. Although effective marketing depends on sound strategy, a small business is often able to flesh out such a strategy quite quickly with the guidance of an experienced marketing consultant. It does not have to be a thick document and months of deliberations.
None of us is a complete idiot when it comes to marketing, and much of it is quite apparent with the right guidance. The concept of a target market, for example, is often contentious because few want to limit their opportunity to sell. However, it becomes much more palatable when seen from the perspective of attracting the ideal type of client that will have the most significant impact on business success. This indeed requires a targeted investment in marketing that is easily understood as worthwhile, when viewed from the perspective of attracting the best possible clientele.
It is not uncommon to find that a fear of marketing wastefulness runs so deep in a business that it falls into a trap of analysis paralysis
Over recent months I have increasingly become more focused on keeping my marketing strategies pragmatic and short. I try to establish the key drivers of the business quickly and then propose a tight set of tools and tactics that I feel can work to achieve commercial results. I deliberately aim for oversimplification, because anything else quickly becomes navel-gazing. I work with a core group inside the business to flesh out the ideal customer, outline their most important needs, define a value proposition and a communications plan. My aim is to keep things straight forward.
Don't postpone the marketing of your business (or product)
Now is the time to build a layered approach to growth by adding a strategic marketing approach to your operations. It can't be business as usual given the times we live in, i.e. relying purely on your personal network or your sales-team. Shift the momentum of your business by defining a clear marketing strategy that covers all aspects of brand positioning, market segmentation and targeting and communications that move the needle with prospective customers.
Marketing your business, your products and ultimately, the brands you build is not an optional extra for companies today. You can't choose whether you want to do marketing, or not - you must do it. A strategic marketing plan sits at the heart of tech-enabled, purpose-driven and success-focused companies.
Think about it: all successful companies around the world invest in marketing. It's only the losers that don't. Don't be one of them.